America’s Greatest Military Victories
War Is Boring
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I think the author’s understanding of these battles is somewhat superficial if he thinks planning accounted for the outcomes. For example Yorktown . . . undeniably it required a high level of logistical organization only possible after the learning experiences of Valley Forge and Morristown, but absolute victory over, as opposed to the evacuation or reinforcement, of the British forces hinged upon 2 things, that after all I have read brings me to the conclusion that only Washington’s ignorance of naval affairs could have induced him to chance a campaign, and that was: 1) that the the French fleet would show up in time to seal the mouth of the Chesapeake (a very iffy proposition under the best of circumstances due to the vagaries of wind and tide); and 2) that a French fleet would win a general fleet engagement over the British for the first time in generations (the Royal Navy being analogous to the Athenian Navy in the Peloponessian War). It is quite possible that Washington was hoping to force an evacuation of Yorktown, which in the short run would have served just as well as a victory. But an evacuated British Army would have caused a lot more problems for Washington strategically than a reinforced but besieged army. Cornwallis’s army could just as likely have turned around and disembarked in Charleston as landed in New York and Washington could in no way have opposed either landing and very likely would have had to retrace his march back to NYC as the more strategically important objective and the war would have dragged on. If memory serves the Battle of the Virginia Capes was the only French naval victory in a hundred year span of defeats at the hands of the Royal Navy.

The same element of luck and serendipitous chain of events can be made for most of the battles cited by the author. Considering the defects of the American torpedoes at the time of Midway, if the torpedo bombers hadn’t arrived early and drawn the Japanese fighter cover down to the deck, allowing the American torpedo bombers to conduct unhindered attacks, the outcome could have been very different if the fighter cover had been positioned to disrupt the lethal dive bombers and ignored the ineffective torpedo bombers. Neither attacks were coordinated and the dive bombers could have arrived early and their attacks disrupted just as likely as what happened historically. And lets not forget the Japanese Admirals decision to disarm his waiting bombers for a land attack and re-arm for a sea attack leaving high-explosives literally littering his flight decks. There is no way you could plan for this run of good fortune, and there is certainly no evidence of it. The Americans might very well have forced the IJN to withdrawal with its fleet air arm largely intact, but it is very unlikely they could have achieved such an overwhelming victory with such far reaching consequences where the loss of experienced pilots was at least as devastating as the loss of four carriers.

One can just as easily look at American military history as the recepient of more than its fair share of good luck. Even Pearl Harbor could not have been more fortuitous. Virtually every commentator has remarked upon the fortuitous absence of the American carriers on the day of the attack, but none acknowledge how disastrous for the course of the war if the Japanese attacks had been less successful, for any number of reason, and the battleships had remained largely intact. The USN only adopted the carrier as it’s principal offensive weapon because it had no choice. If the BB’s had been available the carriers would have continued to act as scouts and auxiliaries to the main battle fleet consisting of battleships. In the IJN the battleship was still considered the supreme arbiter of battle in spite of the many carrier based successes.

I think that at least as good, if not demonstrably better, a case can be made for luck and good fortunes in any number of American, or any other nationalities, victories. In order to rely entirely upon organization, planning and commitment for victory, one’s enemy must be extraordinarily inept or incompetent. A case in point, the Japanese victories over American and Commonwealth forces in the early days of WWII, were the product of organization, planning and commitment for victory over extraordinarily inept or incompetent commanders. When the very same army, navy and air forces met a resolute defense at Guadalcanal they were shattered, even though they were a superior force. There was barely any evidence of organization and planning for victory, as opposed to wishful thinking, on either side. In the final analysis American commitment to victory was greater as was the fortunes of war.

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